Many of us have heard that it is important to ‘eat a wide variety of foods’. In fact, this is the number 1 dietary guideline for Australians. So, why is this important, and what exactly is a ‘variety of foods’?
Eating many different foods will help ensure that our diet provides all the nutrients needed for good health, and can help ensure against consuming too much of a particular nutrient.
As well, various studies have linked food variety to improved health. One large study in the US showed that as the variety of different foods consumed increased, the mortality from heart disease actually decreased, in both men and women.
This is important news for heart healthy eating. So, what is a variety of foods?
Food variety means choosing foods from all the different food types or food groups each day. These are:
breads & cereals,
fruits, vegetables & legumes,
protein foods (eggs, nuts, poultry, meat),
dairy foods & substitutes (milk, soy drinks, cheese, yoghurt), and
small amounts of fats and oils.
Even within each food group, foods can vary in the nutrients they provide. Variety does not simply mean different brands of bread or breakfast cereal. Let’s look at the wide variety of foods in each food group.
Breads & cereals – Choose different breakfast cereals, such as Bush Foods Breakfast Cereal, or rolled oats. There are rye breads that can substitute for wheat breads on occasions. Most pasta is made from wheat, however you can also buy pasta made from rice or corn.
Fruits – try citrus, stone fruit or tropical fruits.
Vegetables – include root vegetables, leafy greens, marrow like (such as cucumber or eggplant), and flowers (broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce).
Legumes – kidney beans, chick-peas and baked beans are just some of the varieties available. Canned varieties offer convenience, as they can be added straight to recipes.
Dairy foods – milk and calcium enriched soy drinks are available plain or flavoured. Yoghurt is available as natural, fruit flavoured or with added ‘cultures’. Reduced fat cheddar cheese – such as Dick Smith Foods’ light cheese blocks and slices – is recommended for people with high cholesterol levels. Lower fat cheeses, such as ricotta or cottage cheese are also nutritious alternatives.
Protein foods – enjoy the many types of nuts available (such as cashews or almonds, preferably unsalted). Including eggs and tofu can also add variety. If you eat meat, vary between lean red meat, poultry and fish.
The Japanese are advised to eat 30 different foods each day! While this may sound a lot, using different vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and legumes, combined with a range of herbs and spices as natural flavours in dishes will help ensure your diet is varied and enjoyable.
This article was prepared by the nutritionists at Sanitarium Nutrition Service.